1. Tusitala
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    Tusitala Member

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    Query for YA Sci-Fi

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Tusitala, Jun 22, 2016.

    Hello! I’ve been working on a query letter for my novel for a while now, and I’ve read the stupid thing so many times that I could probably recite it in my sleep. I could use a pair of fresh eyes. Could somebody out there who has not read it a million times take a look and let me know what you think?

    Thanks a ton!

    ---

    The query:

    Jessie Corbin hasn’t even graduated high school yet and there’s already some maniac trying to kill her. This isn’t one of the bullies she normally picks fights with, either. His name is Steven Thorne. He’s a time traveler. And he’s come from thirty years in the future to get revenge for something she hasn’t even done yet.

    He won’t tell her exactly what it is, but Jessie’s pretty sure he deserved it. Either way, she has no intention of dying tonight.

    As Jessie tries to evade Thorne, though, she runs into another time traveler—this time, a version of herself from about eight hours in the future. Future Jessie was sent back by accident and isn’t exactly helpful. Especially not when Thorne is seconds away from killing them both.

    The current Jessie might not know anything about time travel, but she does know an opportunity when she sees one. If she fakes her death, Thorne will assume he’s succeeded and go back to his own time. She could kill the future version and use the body to divert the murderer.

    Or she could NOT do that, because that would mean eight hours from now she’s going to end up as a dead body herself. Jessie’s instincts tell her to take option number one, although she realizes about two seconds too late that her instincts are complete crap.

    Thanks to this brilliant idea, she has eight hours to figure out how to rewrite the future, survive the night, and avoid blowing a hole in the space-time continuum. Also, she’s going to have to stay ahead of the man who wants her dead, because her suicidal plan didn’t even work. Thorne wasn’t fooled, and he’s coming for her.

    Unless Jessie’s past version kills her first.

    CHRONOCIDE is a 97,000-word YA science fiction novel. I am a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of local publications, although unfortunately my time travel experience is somewhat limited. [Insert whatever I feel is necessary for a specific agent—I read an interview where they said they liked time travel, I liked a book they repped, yada yada yada.]

    Thank you for your consideration.
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I'm confused.
    Is past Jessie the first paragraph and then "current" Jessie the future one?
     
  3. Tusitala
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    I called her "Current" Jessie to distinguish her from "Future" Jessie. "Current" Jessie is the same one introduced in the first paragraph. From her perspective (and the reader's), the timeline looks something like this:

    1. Jessie meets the guy trying to kill her
    2. Jessie meets her future version
    3. Jessie kills her future version
    4. Jessie realizes that she's eventually going to become the future version
    5. Jessie tries to fix her mistake

    The "past version" mentioned at the end is the version of Jessie that does the killing (in step 3)--because by the time Jessie becomes the future version (the one that got killed), the one doing the killing will be in her past.

    I'm sorry it's confusing. :/ I promise this all makes perfect sense in my head, but that doesn't necessarily mean it makes sense outside of my head. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I needed a pair of fresh eyes.
     
  4. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    That is why you need a fresh pair of eyes reading your actual manuscript.
     
  5. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    It makes sense to me.
    I'm not real crazy with the Thorne, though the words are too similar & makes the sentence awkward to me.

    Killing yourself in this manner seems like the last choice I would go with. I hope the story makes this decision seem rational in the moment.
    Spell out that she murdered herself- "option one" seems a little wishy-washy to me.
    I'm not sure if it makes any difference but your last paragraph looks more like a first paragraph for the usual query letters I see posted.
     
  6. Tusitala
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    doggiedude: Thanks a ton for your advice. My beta readers have told me that her decision does make sense in the context of the book, but I've had a hard time making it sound rational in such a short letter. Do you think I need more information? For example, should I include the details that demonstrate Jessie is a reckless person who doesn't really think things through?

    Or do I need less? An earlier draft of this letter more or less said "a panicked and desperate Jessie kills the future version of herself," without delving deeply into her reasons why (she's trying to fake her death, etc.). Should I head back in that direction? Or will that raise more questions than it answers?

    Thank you very much!
     
  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry that I don't have enough experience to comment from the POV of writing a good query, but...

    I love the story! I'd read that. Loves me some time travel, I does.

    My only question: Is there a romance angle in there somewhere? It wasn't mentioned in the query.
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I didn't find it confusing, but then I'm a time travel nut.

    If this were comedy as well, I'd go get a sex change so I could have your babies. :)
     
  9. Tusitala
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    There's a mild romantic subplot, but it wasn't an important enough part of the book to make it into the query. Why do you ask?

    Thanks for your generous words of encouragement. :) Speaking of time travel and sex changes, have you ever read "All You Zombies" by Heinlein?
     
  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Because all the classic time travel stories have a romantic subplot.
     
  11. Quillaby
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    Quillaby New Member

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    Hi! This is actually my first post :). I've been lurking for eons. I think your query has a strong start, but then you give too much information in the middle. It's easy to get readers confused when it comes to time travel, so my personal stance is less is more when it comes to the query. My notes (but feel free to ignore me!):


     
  12. Tusitala
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    Thanks for the feedback! A few of your edits are ones that existed in earlier drafts of this letter (or that I was considering making). I was reading your whole comment going, “Hey, yeah, she’s right! It does read better as one sentence instead of three!”


    Then you suggested deleting the whole part of the letter where I talk about Jessie killing herself, and my inner high-strung writer curled up and died a little. (This is the same writer that can’t handle criticism of any kind and freaks out whenever she’s confronted by obnoxious things like facts.)


    One of the most famous bits of writing advice is to “Kill your darlings”, and after I managed to get my heart restarted again, I realized that I should consider killing this one. You’re right that it’s easy for time travel to get confusing, and my biggest problem with this query has been how to express what happens in a clear and concise manner. Stripping out the part of the book where things start to get really complicated solves that problem nicely and leaves me a little more room in the query letter.


    But here are the objections that my brain is throwing up (aside from the high-strung writer wailing, “But that’s the best part!”):


    -I’ve heard a lot of agents (most notably Janet Reid/Query Shark, but a few others too) say that they want the query to tell what major choice(s) a character has to make. This both demonstrates that the character is proactive and interesting, and provides a jumping off point for the rest of the plot. The choice Jessie makes that kicks off the story is to kill her future self. If I leave that part out, does it leave me with a letter full of setup but no plot?


    -I’ve also heard that one of the main purposes of a query letter is to demonstrate that your book has an exciting/unusual premise. I’ve seen enough sci-fi, though, to know that I’m not the first person to come up with “girl has to escape time-traveling assassin” (cough cough The Terminator cough). I wanted to include “girl kills future version of herself” in order to answer the question, “What makes your book different from the rest?”


    -Jessie killing her future self is pretty dang integral to the plot, and I don’t want to misrepresent what the novel is about. (I guess this plot point will be in the synopsis, but I also know that not all agents request synopses.)


    Are any of these valid reasons to leave it in there? Do the benefits of cutting it outweigh the costs? Is there something else I could do with the query letter to address/resolve these concerns? Should I start getting ready to kill my darling (and/or the inner high-strung writer)?


    Thanks a ton for your help.
     
  13. doggiedude
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    You might just simplify it with something like - In an act of desperation, she decides to kill the future version of herself.
     
  14. Tusitala
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    I've thought about doing that, but...

    Is eliminating all of Jessie's rationale for the killing only going to make the irrationality problem worse?

    Thanks for talking through this with me. Query letters are so hard to write. :/
     
  15. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I think it's okay to leave the query letter with unanswered questions. It's the story that needs to explain everything.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Good query! It has voice (which hopefully reflects the voice in the manuscript?), it's intriguing, and it's pretty clear (see notes below). I think it would probably get requests as it is. But I also think you'd get more requests if you had some more specifics in there. Doesn't Jessie have ANY idea what she did in the future? What is it about her future self that's "not exactly helpful" -- is she a hysterical mess? What is it that makes her realise option number one was bad?

    It's like you've given me a really clear, easy-to-follow recipe, and now I just want a couple of pictures to make it really mouth watering.

     
  17. Tusitala
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    Okay! After a lot of thought (and taking into account everyone's helpful comments) I've come up with another, hopefully better draft. I present to you QueryLetter 2.0:


    Seventeen-year-old Jessie Corbin has some maniac trying to kill her. This isn’t one of the bullies she normally picks fights with, either. His name is Steven Thorne, he’s a time traveler, and he’s come from thirty years in the future to get revenge for something she hasn’t even done yet.

    He won’t tell her exactly what it is, but Jessie’s pretty sure he deserved it. And no matter what it was, she has no intention of dying tonight.

    As Jessie tries to evade Thorne, however, she runs into another time traveler—this time, a version of herself from about eight hours in the future. The future version isn't much help, though. Minutes after her arrival she ends up getting shot by someone panicked, desperate, and by now very, very confused.

    Jessie might not know anything about time travel, but she does know that killing her future self was probably not a good idea. Thanks to this epic screw-up, she has eight hours to figure out how to rewrite the future, survive the night, and avoid blowing a hole in the space-time continuum. Also, she’s going to have to stay ahead of the man who wants to murder her. Thorne isn't about to give up just because she's already dead.

    CHRONOCIDE is a 97,000-word YA science fiction novel. I am a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of local publications, although unfortunately my time travel experience is somewhat limited. [Placeholder for the customized part of the letter]

    Thank you for your consideration.
     
  18. Tusitala
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    I don't want to be that person bumping my own thread... but I'm gonna be the person bumping my own thread...

    Is the revision better? Worse? Indistinguishable from the first one? Completely unrecognizable as a query for the same book as the first one?
     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I still think you're too light on specifics. Look at all the vagueness and qualifiers in this query:

    As I said, you have a good hook and I think you'll get requests (although having noticed the word count this time around, I'm less sure. I think you need to trim a good 10k off this). But you'll get more if you give details.
     
  20. Nightstar99
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    Its making me think of Primer.

    If you haven't seen Primer I would watch it.

    I quite like the premise. I think for YA fiction you would do well to include some kind of relationship aspect in the query. I am getting the sense of a lot of Jessie running around with people from the future, or herself from her own past, trying to kill her.

    There are also a lot of paradoxes in there. Whether you feel like you would need to explain those in YA I am not sure. And they are time honoured for the genre I suppose.
     
  21. Tusitala
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    Thanks for the feedback, guys. I appreciate your help.

    Tenderiser: I see what you mean about qualifiers, although some of that is just due to space constraints and Jessie's voice (that's how she talks). Some of it could be clarified, though.

    And that was the word count about halfway through my last round of edits. Once I finish my current one it'll be somewhat lower.

    Nightstar: I haven't seen Primer, but I'll add it to my "To Watch" list. :)
     
  22. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    One of the hardest thing about writing about time travel is getting your tenses correct.

     

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